Online Edition – Vol. V, No. 6: September 1999
Casa Balthasar – A House of Discernment
by Joseph Fessio, SJ
Casa Balthasar is a house of formation and discernment located just outside of Rome and founded in 1989 by Father Jacques Servais, SJ, then Father (now Cardinal) Christoph Schönborn, OP, Fr. Mark Ouillett, SS, and myself. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger has been closely associated with Casa Balthasar from the beginning as its Cardinal Protector.
The purpose of the Casa is to provide an Ignatian formation inspired by the persons and writings of Hans Urs von Balthasar, Henri de Lubac, SJ, and Adrienne von Speyr. It is also a house of discernment, because it is intended for young men between the ages of 20 and 30 who experience a definite call to a following of Christ in some form of consecrated life or fuller discipleship, but are not certain whether this means a religious order, the diocesan priesthood or a secular institute.
The spiritual formation places a strong emphasis on personal prayer and contemplation. The residents prepare each evening for the next morning’s meditation, which they make silently and in common in the chapel of Casa Balthasar. Since the trip to the Roman faculties — where some of the residents are enrolled — takes more than an hour each way, the only viable way to have the time necessary for private prayer in the morning and common participation at a community Mass is to have the Mass on weekdays at 7:30 in the evening, before the late Roman supper.
The chapel is small but beautifully appointed. The altar and the celebrant face East and Gregorian Chant has pride of place in the singing of the Mass, which is usually celebrated in the language of the house, Italian, and sometimes in Latin. There is a long period of silence after the Gospel and homily for reflection on the Word of God, and another long period of silence after Communion for thanksgiving.
Residents from Casa Balthasar come from all over the world, with larger numbers now coming from Eastern Europe. Italian has never been the mother tongue of more than one or two of the residents. Thus, when the day concludes with Compline said or sung in Latin and the final Latin hymn to Our Lady, there is a visible expression of a trans-national communion that unites the community with their brothers and sisters in ages past.
Father Joseph Fessio is editor of Ignatius Press and a member of the executive committee of Adoremus.